By Tony Knight Dog Listener
I once did a consultation for a couple who had an out-of-control German Shepherd. In desperation, they had sent their problem pooch off to a “boot camp”, run by – of course – an ex-army dog handler. Who better to bring their dog to heel, right?
After a few weeks of training, the trainer returned their now obedient dog, together with a film of him walking the dog to heel. Ta-da! A lot of money maybe, but money well spent.
You know there is a “but” coming…
But (there it is) after a couple of weeks back at home, their dog was worse than ever. No matter how many times they watched the film, it didn’t help at all. There was one vital piece of the puzzle missing in the training; the humans were not given any information. The dog had returned home and reassessed its position in its family. Seeing no difference in the humans’ behaviour, it once again took over the mantle of responsibility, this time in a fitter state physically if a little more head shy than before (I wonder why…).
Why do people waste so much money on sending their dogs off to be trained by somebody else? There are a few reasons which are understandable. Firstly, it is common for people to trust a figure of authority and knowledge when they do not understand the problem.
The belief that an expert can solve the problem for them leads a lot of dog owners to put their faith (and a lot of money) in so-called dog boot camps. Unless the owners are then given specific instructions themselves on how to recreate the same process at home, the dog will simply go back to the previous setting with their family. At the end of the day, the dog does not live with the trainer.
Recently I spoke with a colleague of mine called Phil over in America who told me that he visited a family who had spent thousands of dollars for “ready-trained” puppies. To their huge surprise (but not ours) these perfect pooches became Hell hounds as they grew up. When humans are given no maintenance instructions, things start to go wrong. Phil gave the people the right instruction manual and things calmed down very quickly.
Secondly, sometimes a dog’s behaviour is so exasperating that having a break from them is a blessed relief. I was contacted once by a lady in the South of France who begged me to take her dog away to be trained as it was driving her to despair. There is possibly nothing more frustrating than a member of your family going off the rails and you have no idea what to do about it.
I agreed to take the dog away to my home (also in the South of France) for 3 weeks to give her a break, on the proviso that upon our return, she learned what I had done to calm him down. I knew full well that he would revert straight back to the old way of behaving if she did not know what to do to convince him that he didn’t need to reprise his old role of panicking decision maker. After the consultation, she followed my advice and – with some support at the beginning – calm was restored to the household.
Another reason for boot camps getting clients is the belief among many that training a dog takes too much time, a commodity which is often in short supply (even if money is not). Getting somebody else to do all the work for you may seem like a smart move, but when you realise that it is like asking someone else to go to the gym for you so that you can get fit, it suddenly becomes an obvious waste of time.
The good news is that it takes very little time to start to show your dog the right way to behave. In fact, once you start practising the correct way to interact with your dog, the whole process becomes automatic – you don’t even realise that you are doing it. All you need to do is learn how to show your dog at specific times that they can trust you (and it is far easier than you think). I often say that a relaxed dog is happy to live their life around what we do. Too many people live their lives around their dog (and nobody is happy about that).
In short, remember that living with a dog requires effort on your part, rather than leaving it up to somebody else. You live with you dog, not them. Also, once you know the correct way to act, it becomes second nature so the only time that you put into your relationship with your dog is what you want to give. The great part of this is that the better behaved your dog, the more you enjoy their company. You wouldn’t dream of sending them away to be “educated” by someone who may be using training tactics that would make your blood boil if you actually saw them doing it.
The next time your dog is driving you bananas, ask yourself what you can do about it. That way you will quickly find a solution that is calm, consistent and convincing. Remember too that – just like getting healthy – it is a lifestyle change that wins the day, not a few weeks of intense activity.